By Gabrielle. Photos by Diana Prichard.
I’ve got a big post for you today. I’m going to talk to you about branding. And J.Crew scarves. And then I’m going to ask you to sign a petition. But first, I’ve got a beautiful video that ONE made of our week in Ethiopia (spoiler: I cry in the video).
Wasn’t that beautiful?! It makes me so homesick for the people we met.
And now, back to branding and scarves. : ) On our last day, we visited a textile company called Muya. We visited a small scarf factory earlier in the week (that I still haven’t properly told you about), but this was a much bigger place. Muya was amazing! To demonstrate what is amazing about it, I’ll start with some facts about Ethiopian weavers.
- Weaving is considered a male skill and weavers are almost exclusively male. Spinning is traditionally done by the women. It’s been hard for Ethiopians to move past these cultural norms.
- Weavers build their looms by hand, and the looms are made to be mobile. So the weaver can carry the loom to find work — nomadic style.
- When they set up a loom, a traditional weaver will dig a hole beneath the set-up for his feet, and the weaver will literally spend all day toiling in the dirt.
- Weavers are considered very low in social stature. If there was a caste system, they would be almost rock-bottom. The only vocations that are lower are blacksmiths and tanners.
- A weaver typically makes about 300-400 Birr per month. (100 Birr is about $5.50) This is not a livable wage.
But Ethiopian cotton is excellent. And the textiles Ethiopians produce are stunning. Enter: Muya.
Muya is an Ethiopian company founded by a woman, and run by a French man and a Greek man. Muya provides a safe, stable place for weavers to work, so that parents don’t have to leave the city (and their families) to earn money. Not surprisingly, outside their gates every morning, they have a line of weavers looking for work. Muya understands the idea that another way to feed the people of Ethiopia is to sell these artisan products created in Ethiopia by Ethiopians.
Other notes of admiration I made about Muya:
- A Muya weaver earns 1500 Birr/month. And when their skills increase and they get faster, they can earn up to 4000 Birr/month.
- They also pay well for hand work, which is done almost entirely by women. The fringe, the sewing, the ironing, the washing — it’s all done by hand.
- They currently have 200 weavers working in-house, and 200 that are outsourced. They were able to train 100 of those weavers with financing from USAID.
- They are planning for 300 more in 2 years and are currently building a bigger facility to house all the looms.
- Muya has developed a new loom. It’s not portable, but it’s easier and less expensive to make, keeps weavers out of the dirt, and allows more people to be trained to weave.
- But they don’t force the new looms. They have master weavers that still use their own looms. One is even a woman!
- Do you recognize the name LemLem? Their line is carried by J.Crew and the pieces are made at Muya. We saw the actual cloth being woven before our eyes and it was fun to imagine those pieces being purchased by our friends back home.
- 85% of the scarves they make go to America.
- Muya values Ethiopian culture. They’ve collected over 7000 designs from 85 different Ethiopian tribes to use as inspiration for their products.
Despite Muya’s successes, it still faces a big challenge: Brand Image. They’ve found that the fact they are an Ethiopian company is a liability. This is what happens: They attend trade shows in the U.S. and Europe, where buyers adore their products and get ready to place an order. Then the buyers find out out Muya is based in Ethiopia, and the buyers chicken out. The buyers will ask, “Ethiopia? Do you even have food? How can you fulfill this big order?”
And when I heard that, I sat there nodding, because of course, that false image of a 100% destitute Ethiopia IS the brand we know in America. We hear the word Ethiopia and we think of images of cracked earth and images of starving children. Because those are the images we’ve been shown since the 80′s. (I had no idea Ethopia really looked like this. Did you?)
Muya is working hard to overcome the Ethiopian bias one client at a time, but really, this is a larger problem that affects economic growth and development throughout the country. When Ethiopian businesses, large and small, are seeking investors, people are hesitant to step up to the table.
The Brand of Ethiopia is a real concern to business people there. And we had spirited conversations about how to go about changing that brand. I kept thinking of my friends in New York who brand things for a living, and wondered what they would do with a branding problem of these proportions. (Maybe that will be a future non-profit group — a branding/PR company that works to change the perception of Ethiopia on a large scale.)
The good news is that perceptions ARE starting to change. By supporting the efforts that are making real improvements, and shining a light on those efforts, ONE is helping the world to see Ethiopia in a more positive light. Ethiopia’s brand IS changing.
The Brand of Ethiopia changed for me as soon as I walked out of the airport in Addis Ababa. Hopefully it’s changing for you as you read my posts about what I learned there.
I hope too you’ll notice that while I do mention the struggles, what I’m really focusing on in my reports are the programs THAT ARE WORKING. The schools that have received funding and are doing smart things with it. The hospitals and clinics that are successfully helping their communities.
Why focus on the successes? Because we want the funding to keep coming until it’s not needed anymore. We want to demonstrate that it’s worth it.
When I say ONE.org doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice, I mean it. And right now is one of those times where they need your voice. They need you to take one minute and sign this petition to keep the funding coming. One minute of your time to add your voice. Thanksgiving week is a busy week, but please take one little minute to sign the petition, and show your gratitude for the people who are working hard to do so much with so little.
P.S. — ONE.org was relaunched yesterday with an impactful new design. Go check it out — and be sure to scroll down.
In October, I spent a week in Ethiopia at the kind invitation and expense of The ONE Campaign, a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and malnutrition, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments to invest in smart programs that save lives. While there, I was with a group of parenting bloggers to observe how the organizations for which ONE advocates are effecting real change in Ethiopia.
ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. If you’re moved by anything you read or see here, or on the ONE blog, please consider adding your voice, and join ONE.